Why Victor Valdes is in the form of his life
As the precocious James Forrest perfectly took down the ball just inside the crowded penalty box, to strike it on the volley with a conviction that resonated all through Celtic’s impressive showing last night against Barcelona, there was probably one driving thought that went through his mind – Goal! The winger’s strike was one worthy of handing a resurgent Celtic the lead last night, and would probably have decided the match had it followed the laws of physics and exploded into the roof of the net.
What the youngster, or indeed any of the Celts watching with bated breath inside Celtic Park did not count on, were the extended arms of Victor Valdes. In one fluid motion, the Barcelona keeper flung himself to his right to deny Celtic a fantastic opener. Only to promptly get back up again, the adrenaline coursing through his veins as he rallied his troops, bellowing at them to step it up a notch.
A picture of confidence and authority, the man has been in inspired form since the new season began. So much so that his new manager has been singing his praises to anyone who cares to listen. Clearly, Martino would grab at the opportunity to keep Valdes in Barcelona’s scheme of things beyond the current season, even if the keeper himself has already made it clear that he has every intention of leaving. I, for one, wouldn’t hold my breath on things turning out any other way.
For someone who is a Blaugrana boy through and through, Valdes has had to deal with far more than most. In fact, to a rank outsider, one not well versed in Barcelona’s unique culture, a glance at Valdes’ professional career may lead him to think that the fans consider him to be a real mensch, akin to San Iker’s iconic status in Madrid. Nothing would be further from the truth.
To this rank outsider, it would seem that these are two men entrusted with the toughest job in football, for arguably the two biggest teams in the world today. Local boys who were fortunate enough to grow into their respective teams without having to endure the customary ritual of having to go out on loan and proving themselves worthy. A trust that they have repaid in kind, it would seem.
And yet, despite coming up along with a reinvented Xavi and a prodigal Iniesta (courtesy the short and under-appreciated reign of Radomir Anti?), Valdes has never enjoyed even a fraction of the support and adulation, nay, adoration, that the midfield duo commands among the faithful. And before someone says that it is hardly fair to compare anybody with the sparkling feet of “Xaviesta”, I would like to say two words – San Iker.
Cristiano Ronaldo may be the best player at Real Madrid by quite a stretch, but he doesn’t even hold up a candle to Iker Casillas when it comes to the fans. And this is a benched Iker Casillas, mind you. One who has not only been displaced by an imperious Diego Lopez in Real’s La Liga challenge, but a man who also got injured in the opening minutes of a rare start in a recent Champions League fixture; supposedly his domain now that Carlo Ancelotti has fallen prey to the black magic Jose Mourinho performed in his office before leaving in the summer.